Capitol Report: Chipping away at the rural teacher shortage

Welcome to another edition of Capitol Report.

In the week that was, a bill to expand access to school lunch for more middle school students moved forward with bipartisan support, and a bill on arts education from state Sen. Michael Merrifield, a Colorado Springs Democrat, died in committee despite having Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert’s name on it.

In the week to come, we’ve got committee hearings for bills on the rural teacher shortage, school funding, tax credits to support early childhood education, and more.

Republicans started the session by saying their top priority was transportation, and they’re moving forward with that agenda. A bill that would devote 10 percent of sales and use tax revenue to roads and ask voters to approve a massive transportation bond program moved out of committee. That’s about $350 million a year that wouldn’t be available for other purposes, including K-12 education. It’s not likely to get out of the House, and neither is a bill being heard in a Senate committee this week that would reduce state income taxes. Meanwhile, a bill that would ask voters to fund full-day kindergarten is being heard in the Senate’s kill committee.

At Chalkbeat’s legislative preview before the start of the session, lawmakers from both parties said there’s little political appetite for a minimum wage for teachers, probably the boldest idea suggested for attracting more teachers to the profession. The bills being heard this week dangle other financial incentives in front of teachers who are willing to give rural schools a shot. A bill in the House would create a fellowship program for aspiring educators to go work in rural districts, and a bill in the Senate would expand a stipend for rural teachers to include those pursuing alternative licensure. Both bills require commitments from the teachers who take advantage of these programs. It’s a “try it, you might like it” approach to the problem, with a bit of a catch.

– Erica Meltzer, bureau chief

(Photo by Joe Amon, The Denver Post)

Bill that would provide free lunch for more Colorado students moves forward

Colorado already picks up the cost of school lunch for elementary-aged children who qualify for reduced-price but not free meals under the federal lunch program. This bill would expand the benefit to cover middle school students. Read more

Colorado students would have to do science to learn science under new standards

A standards review committee has recommended that Colorado adopt a modified version of the Next Generation Science Standards, some version of which are now in use in 38 states. Colorado is in the midst of a six-year review of all its academic standards, and the State Board of Education has until this summer to finalize its decision. The changes in science are more substantial than recommendations in most subject areas, and not everyone is on board. Read more

Colorado’s biggest universities were left off a report on how well high schools prepare graduates for college success

A Plus Colorado, an advocacy group that uses research to push for higher student achievement, has withdrawn a report that cast a dim light on the college prospects of most Colorado high school graduates. The report was based on flawed data from the Colorado Department of Higher Education, which took responsibility and promised to put procedures in place to ensure accuracy in information provided to third parties. Read more

The Douglas County voucher case is finally over

In practical terms, the Douglas County School Board already made this decision in December, when new members elected on an anti-voucher platform voted unanimously to end the controversial program. On Thursday, the Colorado Supreme Court dismissed Taxpayers for Public Education vs. Douglas County School District as moot at the request of both parties. Read more


What to expect next

Follow education-related bills from start to finish with our 2018 Bill Tracker here.


House Education, 1:30 p.m., HCR 0107

  • HB18-1002 – Rural School District Teaching Fellowship Programs
  • HB18-1005 – Notice To Students Of Postsecondary Courses

House Finance, 1:30 p.m., LSB A

  • HB18-1004 – Continue Child Care Contribution Tax Credit

Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs, 1:30 p.m., Room 271

  • SB18-058 – Failure Report Child Abuse Statute Of Limitations


Senate Finance Committee, 2 p.m., SCR 357

  • SB18-061 – Reduce the State Income Tax Rate


House Education Committee, upon adjournment, HCR 0112

  • HB18-1095 – Educator License Requirements Military Spouses
  • Hearing for sunset review for the Colorado Youth Advisory Council

House Finance Committee, upon adjournment, LSB A

  • HB18-1100 – Educator Licensure Cash Fund
  • HB18-1101 – Retail Marijuana Sales Tax Appropriations For Schools

Senate Education Committee, upon adjournment, SCR 352

  • SB18-085 – Financial Incentives For Education In Rural Areas

Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs, 1:30 p.m., SCR 357

  • SB18-004 – Funding for Full-day Kindergarten


Senate Education, 1:30 p.m., SCR 352

  • SB-18-012 – Military Enlistment School Performance Indicator

What we’re reading

A transportation bonding bill that would take 10 percent of all sales and use tax revenue – that’s about $350 million in fiscal year 2019-2020 – and dedicate it to roads spending for the indefinite future passed the Senate Transportation Committee in a predictable party line vote. Representatives of the governor’s office and many Democrats oppose this bill, so its prospects in the House are not great. Also opposed: those who want the state to spend more on K-12 education. Denver Post

State Sen. Rhonda Fields wants to extend the statute of limitations for failure to report child abuse. This bill was prompted by the indictment of three administrators in the Cherry Creek School District. They’re accused of not notifying police and of pressuring a student to recant her claim that a teacher pursued a sexual relationship with her. This bill is being heard Monday in the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee, a kill committee, but Fields is hoping she can make a case that it’s a necessary step to protect children. ABC7

In an op-ed, attorney and former gymnast Rachel Denhollander, the first woman to go public with accusations that Dr. Larry Nasser sexually abused her, writes that these sorts of legislative solutions – “extending or removing the statute of limitations on criminal and civil charges related to sexual assault, strengthening mandatory reporting laws, and ensuring truth in sentencing” – are necessary if abusers are to be held accountable. New York Times

State Rep. Dan Thurlow has filed a primary challenge against state Sen. Ray Scott. Both men are Republicans who represent Grand Junction. Thurlow, one of the more moderate Republicans in the caucus, reportedly considered running as an unaffiliated candidate, but he remains a Republican. No hardliner on TABOR, Thurlow has advocated for measures that would allow the state to retain more revenue. Colorado Politics

This year’s Outdoor Retailer Show was about a lot more than sleeping bags and snowboards. The show abandoned Utah for Colorado over public lands policy, and now organizers want to keep that activist spirit going. Colorado Public Radio